In most European countries Halloween is not as big an event as it is in the US, although it has been growing in popularity in the last few years. In Italy and France, All Saints’ Day (Ognissanti/Toussaint), on the other hand, is quite a big deal; it is a special time for honoring the dead. The day is a national holiday and falls on November 1st.
A little history
All Saints’ Day is a religious celebration (Christian) that dates back to the early fourth century. The day actually honors all saints that have attained heaven. The day was originally celebrated in May and was only during the reign of Pope Gregory II (731-741) that the date was moved officially to November 1. To this day, the Pope holds a large mass that is open to the public.
Being a national holiday, All Saints’ Day is an opportunity for many families to spend some extra time together and with close friends and although All Souls’ Day (il giorno dei morti/le jour des morts) falls on November 2, both countries, Italy and France, take advantage of the public holiday and honor the dead on November 1.
Families gather together at the cemeteries and decorate the graves with potted chrysanthemums. Occasionally lights will be lit to symbolize eternal life. At this time of the year, florists, garden centers, and roadside vendors are filled with chrysanthemums in every color, it is quite the sight to see.
Graves of loved ones will be visited, cleaned and fresh flowers will be placed. Sometimes as a little tradition people will take their own little dust brushes and cleaning cloths and will spend time as a family taking care of the dead.
It’s all about the food
Like many other celebrations, All Saints’ Day, is a feast day where families and close friends will sit down for a meal together. On All Souls’ Day, people believe the dead return to visit the family for a meal together. Being a working day, families usually respect this tradition on All Saints’ Day by setting a place at the table and leaving water and wine for them to drink.
Although in France and Italy what is eaten varies between the countries’ regions, there are some common seasonal delights that can be seen across both like roasted chestnuts, pumpkins, and truffles.
Something to do
If you happen to be in Paris during All Saints Day celebrations, make sure to visit one of the many beautiful cemeteries the city is famous for:
If you are in Italy during this time of the year, make sure to look for: “il pane dei morti” (Day of the Dead). It’s a traditional bread made with flour, sugar, eggs, crumbled biscuits, raisins, cinnamon, and chocolate. A must-try for any sweet tooth. Or maybe try and make it yourself with this recipe from Lombardia Food.
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